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Strong Through Cancer: A Little Weight and a Lot of Hope

How weightlifting helped me through cancer.
PUBLISHED April 21, 2017
Ryan Hamner is a four-time survivor of Hodgkin lymphoma, a musician, and an award-winning author. In 2011, he wrote and recorded, "Where Hope Lives" for the American Cancer Society and the song for survivors, "Survivors Survive" used in 2015 for #WorldCancerDay. Recently, he published his book, This is Remission: A Four-Time Cancer Survivor's Memories of Treatment, Struggle, and Life, available on Amazon. His website is
When I was 11 years old, I was friggin’ skinny. I was really skinny —  like Skeletor from the cartoon show He-Man skinny. As a matter of fact, “Skeletor” eventually became one of my many nicknames, “no-butt-at-all” was another (good one guys). I was often very tired, couldn’t eat and definitely couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I became depressed and hyper-focused on my size. I didn’t know what to do about it. This is when my dad decided to buy me my first weight set.

When I first got the weight set, I wasn’t impressed at all. I thought of all of the Transformers and G.I. Joes I could have bought with the money that my dad spent on weights. And also, some might think, why would an 11-year-old on chemotherapy and radiation need a weight set? What good would it do? Well, it did a few good things, actually. The first thing it did was make me physically feel better every time I lifted — even if I was only lifting the weight of a sack of groceries. Secondly, lifting weights gave me hope that I could overcome my “skinniness.” And I think the whole hope thing was way more important than any muscle weight I could have gained.

As time went by, I would have treatments, surgeries and the unexpected infections, but I lifted weights (and flexed in the mirror some too, I admit) when I could. I didn’t have any kind of routine exactly, but as long as I did some type of weight training I felt better.

When I was 15-years-old, things changed with my whole weight lifting program. My brother, who was and is a great deal bigger than me (monster), helped me get on a real weightlifting program. At the time, I didn’t even weigh 100 pounds. I was still “Skeletor-ish.” Things were about to change though, a little.

From age 15 until my next occurrence at 21-years-old, I worked out consistently and ate like a small beast. I might not have always known what the heck I was doing at the gym, but I always walked out of the weight room feeling much better and like I was making progress. When I hit 21, I broke 130 pounds. This was a milestone for me and it only gave me more confidence to keep pushing. However, I got sick again. Wonk wonk. But, it sure was a great thing to be in good shape going into cancer treatment.

With my fourth occurrence of Hodgkin lymphoma, I ended up going through some massive amounts of chemo and a bone marrow transplant. Needless to say, I entered into Skeletor status once again as weight was stripped off of me — but after treatment I was right back at it. I eventually regained my weight and then some.

Throughout the years of treatment, my body has undoubtedly taken a beating. With multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation and miscellaneous infections, I’m simply thankful I’ve made it this far. According to my current oncologist, the one thing he says that has probably helped keep me around and make it through all of the health scares is my physical activity from such an early age. Today I have the long-term side effects of cancer treatment I have to think about, but I also have lots of hope that started with a tiny weight set when I was 11 years old.
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